Aurora Borealis in Iceland: How, Where and When

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Aina Martin
@ainamartin
SOURCES CONSULTED:

wikipedia.org, lonelyplanet.com

Author and references

Iceland is one of the best countries for observing the Northern Lights, to see them dance in the sky. In this post I try to answer the most common questions I am asked about the Northern Lights in Iceland: the best places to see it, how and when!

Since I got back from Swedish Lapland, review the northern Lights for me it has become a priority, and it is also for many other travelers: despite this we must never forget that this phenomenon is unpredictable and "spiteful".



Even in a country like Iceland.

One of the main reasons for organize a winter trip to Iceland it is definitely this: the chance to witness the magic of the Northern Lights dancing in the sky.

THEIceland is a densely sparsely populated Arctic island where endless and unspoiled expanses offer excellent opportunities for sighting away from the light pollution of the cities: in fact one of the things I didn't know is that sightings away from city lights are certainly better.

  • Where to see the Northern Lights in Iceland
    • 1 - Reykjavik and surroundings
    • 2 - Snaeffelsness Peninsula
    • 3 - Borgarnes
    • 4 - Thingvellir National Park
    • 5 – Landmannalaugar
    • 6 - Laguna degli iceberg Jökulsárlón
    • 7 - Reynisfjara black sand beach
    • 8 – Skógafoss
    • 9 - Vik / Katla Geopark
  • How to see the Northern Lights in Iceland
    • 1 - With a tour
    • 2 - In the boat
    • 3 - From the spa
    • 4 - In Hotel (Glass Igloo)
    • 5 - With the camper
  • When to see the Northern Lights in Iceland
  • Aurora Borealis in Iceland: useful tips

Where to see the Northern Lights in Iceland

One of the first things to remember when checking in for your flight to Keflavik, Reykjavik International Airport, is to ask for a seat to the north and near the window if possible: it could in fact happen to see the Northern Lights already in the sky before landing.



But not only that: since Keflavik airport is about 50 minutes drive from the capital and crosses a lunar landscape without too many lights, this is also a nice sighting opportunity.

However, there are better places than others to observe the Northern Lights in Iceland: they are places with few lights with beautiful landscapes as a backdrop to the green lady.

here it is the best places in Iceland to see the Northern Lights!

1 - Reykjavik and surroundings

If the sky is clear and the activity of the sun is strong, you can see the Northern Lights practically everywhere in Iceland, even in the center of Reykjavík. Just think that one evening there was such a strong dawn that the electricity of the streets was "suspended" so that everyone could observe it!

I best places in Reykjavik to observe the aurora are those along the coast, where the sky is less polluted by the lights of the city, where the background is better and the horizon wider.

To find a good spot, just take a short walk to the Sun Voyager statue, also here by the sea, a few hundred meters from the Harpa Music Hall.

However, there is always light pollution in the city, so the best places are outside of it.

And no, you don't have to climb mountains. In fact, within walking distance there are great places to see the aurora around Reykjavik!

If you are short on time and cannot get far from Reykjavik, driving south, it only takes about twenty minutes to reach the small town. Álftanes peninsulaMany tours organized by Reykjavik agencies also come here.


We got there with no problem with the camper and stopped a few steps from the church which is a great spot for the auroras as they dance over the Reykjavik cityscape and reflect off the sea.


Other places where to see the Northern Lights in Reykjavik and in its surroundings are:

Seltjarnarnes and the lighthouse of Grótta: if you do not have a car, you can reach this peninsula by the sea with a walk of about 30 minutes from Reykjavik. Even if it will be cold if you want to warm up a little you can take advantage of the presence of a small hot spring.

The Grótta Lighthouse on the western tip of the Reykjavík Peninsula is one of the most popular places within the Reykjavík city limits to see the Northern Lights. The view of the ocean and the small island of Grótta, with its picturesque lighthouse, is the backdrop to the most incredible spectacle of nature. Grótta is also one of the most beautiful places in Reykjavík to enjoy the sunset.

But be careful: a lot of people go there, so you might find a lot of traffic and a lot of people.

Skill parties it is another excellent place to hunt the aurora. The forest, which surrounds the famous Perlan restaurant and landmark, is very dark, so looking up at the sky from one of its clearings often yields great results.

Otherwise, it is also an option to watch from one of the city parks, such as Klambratun or the widest Laugardalur Park.


These below are the best tours from Reykjavik to see the Northern Lights:

☞ Click HERE to see Northern Lights: tour from Reykjavík (cheap): 3-hour bus tour from Reykjavik. If you don't see the aurora you can repeat the tour in the following days for free.

☞ Click HERE to see Iceland: Northern Lights bus tour from Reykjavik (best selling): 4-hour evening bus tour that includes free admission to the Aurora Museum.


☞ Click HERE to see Reykjavík: Northern Lights tour by luxury yacht: Experience the beauty of the Northern Lights aboard a luxury yacht. See this natural wonder from 3 viewing decks or relax in the cozy bar and lounge area.

See HERE other NORTHERN LIGHTS TOUR from REYKJAIK

2 - Snaeffelsness Peninsula

One of the best places to see theNorthern Lights in Iceland (and one of the most photographed by photographers around the world) is certainly in the West, in Snaeffelsness Peninsula, and precisely in Grundarfjörður: here Mount Kirkjufell makes a fine show of itself and the best photo you can take home can be taken here, with the mountain reflecting in the sea and the northern lights dancing behind it.

Aurora borealis and KirkJufell: who wouldn't want to take home a shot like this? credit ExtremeIceland.is

Grundarfjordur it is an excellent sighting place and also offers the possibility, during the day, to do aWhale Watching excursion and be able to observe, as happened to us, the large sea killer whales.

3 - Borgarnes

Also Borgarnes it's a great lookout point. If like me you take the camper you can park on the pier facing the sea where the lights of the town (yes, because it cannot be defined as a city) are not very strong and observe the sky in the old port, where the small boats will keep you company. peaches that rock gently on the water.

But all of West Iceland offers perfect places to see the Northern Lights. Another one that I recommend is to park near the small church of Búðir, near which, if you are driving, there is also a hotel.

If, on the other hand, you take the Ring Road, Grabrok it is a good spot, with the volcano crater and its large frozen lake: an excellent opportunity also for stop for dinner at Matthew's and taste his wonderful homemade noodles.

4 - Thingvellir National Park

If you are driving along the Golden Circle, you can stop at Thingvellir National Park.

This is also a very popular destination for tours departing from Reykjavik.

Located in a Rift Valley in southwestern Iceland, Thingvellir National Park is a World Heritage Site due to its historical and cultural significance and its extraordinary nature. An example of history: from 930 AD to 1789 AD it was the seat of Alping, the Icelandic parliament.

The area features the largest natural lake in Iceland, Thingvallavatn, a river and a waterfall. The magnificent fissure of Silfra on the northern shore of the lake it is also a popular diving spot. In the winter months, Thingvellir is a popular place to see the Northern Lights.

It's not very far, about 35 miles northeast of Reykjavik along Route 1 and then Route 36. The roads are clean most days in the winter, but again, check the weather reports before your trip. .

5 – Landmannalaugar

What better place to observe the Northern Lights than on the highlands away from any source of light where can you soak in a natural hot spring while gazing at the winter sky?

The place in question is Landmannalaugar, a 'colorful' place in central Iceland known simply as 'the Highlands'.

The Landmannalaugar geothermal area is a popular destination for observing the Northern Lights, but you will need to plan your trip carefully as the area is not open all year round and to access it in the winter you will need a 4 × 4.

6 - Laguna degli iceberg Jökulsárlón

Jökulsárlón it's a glacial lagoon that, whatever time of year you decide to go to Iceland, should be at the top of the things to see.

Of course the absolutely unique landscape also makes it one of the best places to see the Northern Lights in Iceland.

Jökulsárlón is located in the southeast, bordering the Vatnajökull National Park, and its peculiarity is the transparent ice icebergs on the black sand: if you are an avid photographer you should be able to get that perfect image that shows both the dancing waves of the Northern Lights and the translucent white and blue of the icebergs in first floor. A difficult image to create but one of the most unique in the world.

7 - Reynisfjara black sand beach

Near the southern city of Vík is located Reynisfjara, known for its black sand beach, basalt columns (reminiscent of Northern Ireland's Giant's Causeway) and ocean stacks, known as Reynisdrangar.

It is one of the best places to see the Northern Lights in Iceland as it offers both spectacular views and the soundtrack of the waves as the night sky puts on its show.

Legend has it that the basalt stacks were once trolls trying to steer a ship to the shore, and when daylight broke they turned into the sharp needles of rock you see now, stuck forever in the sea.

8 – Skógafoss

La Skogafoss waterfall located on the Skógá River in southern Iceland, it is one of the largest waterfalls in the country with a width of 25 meters and a drop of 62 m.

It is the last in a row of waterfalls in the Skógá River and is one of the most famous sites in Iceland as it is easily accessible and has been made famous in films such as Walter Mitty's Secret Life.

9 - Vik / Katla Geopark

Like many of the best places to observe the Northern Lights, this gem too, Bay, in the middle of the Katla Geopark, is located in southern Iceland.

Vik It is the southernmost village in Iceland and is characterized by black sand beaches lining the Atlantic, a volcano and a glacier to the north. Can you imagine seeing the Northern Lights tents hovering over the Atlantic?

A perfect place to observe the Northern Lights is the lovely church Vik I Myrdal from the red roof which is located above the village on a hill.

Don't miss the Arco di Dyrkolaey and the lighthouse, and if you have time, you might want to consider taking a glacier hike Solheimajakull. To do this, you need to join a tour.

How to see the Northern Lights in Iceland

1 - With a tour

The most popular and most recommended way to see the Northern Lights in Iceland is without a doubt with an organized tour which has several advantages over doing it "alone"

The first advantage is that tours take you to the best places to watch the sunrise, places you would probably never find on your own.

But not only:

1 - you will be in the hands of an expert who will advise you how to photograph the aurora and who will tell you all about it.

2 - the chances of seeing the aurora on a tour are greater because the destination will change: according to the forecast, the agencies will take you to the most favorable place for sightings.

For those who are afraid of spending, they can opt for a cheap tour, which are also the best sellers. These are tours that are mainly done in the bus.

You find offer of these tours mainly from the main destinations such as Reykjavik e Akureyri.

To find out about prices and details below you will find some cheap bus tours:

☞ Click HERE to see Iceland: Northern Lights bus tour from Reykjavik (best selling): 4-hour evening bus tour that includes free admission to the Aurora Museum.

☞ Click to see Akureyri: 3-hour Northern Lights tour: A 3-hour tour outside the city to go into the darkness and freeze the winter night and observe the incredible Northern Lights.

My advice, however, is not to be too fixated on the cost of the tour and opt for a more expensive but more quality tour. In fact, on these tours your experience will be completely different. These tours are in fact done in super jeeps.

  • the group is smaller
  • you can go to areas where cheap tours don't come and they are often the best areas, away from the lights of the streets and inhabited centers since you will be able to drive even on dirt and bumpy roads.

Some tour of Reykjavik that I recommend are:

☞ Click to see Northern Lights: Super Jeep tour from Reykjavík

☞ Click to see Quad Tour + Northern Lights: a tour in quad discovering theaurora boreale da Reykjavík and live a complete experience among the beautiful Icelandic landscapes.

2 - In the boat

While most people choose to take a bus to see the Northern Lights, you might consider a slightly different option and take a boat instead.

Northern Lights cruises depart from Reykjavik Harbor and head to baia di Faxaflói for a spectacular view of the Northern Lights.

Be sure to bring warm clothes and maybe even a blanket to ward off the cold ocean breeze and chilly night air.

But you shouldn't take one of these tours just for the Northern Lights, in fact there is an even better reason for me.

It is about enjoying the sea, surrounded by beautiful landscapes while floating under a blanket of stars and why not, perhaps having the opportunity to spot whales that are present in Iceland, in greater or lesser quantities, all year round.

The only "negative" side, if we want to call it that, is that because of the swing, it is much more difficult to take pictures.

☞ Click to see Reykjavík: Northern Lights cruise: See nature's wonderful light show on a 2-hour cruise from Reykjavík Harbor (GetYourGuide certified)

☞ Click to see Northern Lights Cruise: live one Northern Lights cruise in Reykjavík a unique and unmissable experience for your trip to Iceland

3 - From the spa

If there is one thing not to be missed on your trip, it is definitely to visit one of the spas of Iceland, so why not combine them with observing the Northern Lights?

Plus, visiting the hot springs is the perfect activity to do just before seeing the Northern Lights. Warm up before facing the cold night!

La blue Lagoon it is the most popular hot spring in Iceland. Between the striking blue color and the constant temperature of 102 degrees Fahrenheit, it's no wonder this Icelandic attraction draws thousands of visitors every year.

If you're looking for a slightly less touristy hot spring, consider taking a Northern Lights tour that includes the Secret Lagoon! While the Secret Lagoon isn't all that much of a secret, it will feel like you've become an insider, as you'll definitely see more locals here than tourists.

As Iceland's oldest swimming pool, the Secret Lagoon holds a special place.

A third really interesting option is always the experience of the thermal baths with observation of the aurora from the SPA Laugarvatn Fontana.

☞ Click to see Northern Lights and Blue Lagoon: tour from Reykjavík: spend the perfect winter day in Iceland. Rejuvenate body and spirit with a combination of two popular winter activities - a visit to the blue Lagoon and a Northern Lights tour

☞ Click to see Secret Lagoon: Northern Lights and Dinner Tour from Reykjavik: enjoy a dip in the geothermal pool at the Secret Lagoon and sample a buffet dinner in the Icelandic countryside on this excursion from Reykjavik. Then, go in search of the Northern Lights with your guide.

☞ Click to see Northern Lights Tour + Spa Laugarvatn Fontana: I granted a Northern Lights tour after relaxing at the Spa Laugarvatn Fontana: it will be an experience you will always remember.

4 - In Hotel (Glass Igloo)

Currently there are no classic glass igloo hotels in Iceland to observe the aurora, but there are structures from which it can be done, organized as chalets with large windows on the sides and on the roof, positioned in areas with minimal light pollution.

Here you find some hotels made especially for observing the Northern Lights!

If you want to stay in a hotel in Reykjavik which looks like glass igloos, you have to take a look at the Reykjavik Domes. This complex of luxurious garden view tents allows you to see the Aurora directly from your bed, through the large front windows.

This glamping solution (“glamorous camping”) also includes a kitchen and a bathroom with shower.

If your dream is to see the Northern Lights in an original way, do it from the outdoor jacuzzi of thehotel Kjarnalundur it is one of the best options.

This hotel, located in the north of Iceland, offers all the services of a Nordic style hotel in a natural location, away from the light pollution of the city of Akureyri.

Lilja GuestHouse, a small pension in the middle of nowhere in southeast Iceland, it is actually a farm with a newly built hotel.

To say this place is secluded is an understatement.

The hotel is basic but clean and comfortable with locally sourced food. The real draw, however, is that you have open fields, empty landscapes, and no villages or towns in any direction.

All the lights in the hotel are turned off after dinner except some lights on the ground (and in case of aurora those are turned off too).

This family-run guesthouse is also just 30 minutes drive from the famous Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon.

If watching the Northern Lights from an outdoor bathtub sounds like your idea of ​​paradise, then we recommend staying at Hotel Rangá.

situated tra Hella e Hvolsvöllur in southern Iceland, just a two-hour drive from Reykjavík, theHotel Ranga overlooks a rushing river in a remote location. This means that you will have a better chance of catching the Northern Lights as you will be away from any light pollution.

Hotel Rangá also offers wake-up services, so if the Northern Lights emerge in the middle of the night, the staff will notify you. They will also give you blankets to keep you warm while watching the aurora outside.

In addition to seeing the Northern Lights, you can enjoy some stargazing in Rangá. The hotel has its own observatory complete with high quality telescopes, allowing you to closely observe Jupiter, Saturn and Mars. So if the aurora doesn't show up, you'll still be able to enjoy the magical night skies.

5 - With the camper

Precisely due to the fact that thenorthern Lights it is more easily sighted away from city lights, the camper is certainly the best way to "go hunting".

In fact, it is true that from Reykjavik there are many tour proposals organized by agencies or that even renting a car gives you the opportunity to get away from the cities, but only the camper gives you the freedom to push yourself to completely isolated places at night, to camp in the best place and to stay all night with your eyes turned to the starry sky.

Maybe you might like: what to do and see in Reykjavik

Plus, while you wait for the Northern Lights to show, you can doze off, drink a hot herbal tea and stay warm while it's cold outside and the wind is blowing hard.

Our camper after the night chasing the Northern Lights

The Northern Lights are spiteful and can come at any time even when you least expect it: in camper you can stay out all night waiting for them, without the fixed times and deadlines that agencies impose or having to go back to the hotel as when you rent a car.

The camper is therefore an absolutely excellent choice even if you have to have some foresight. First of all you need to read the information about how to drive safely in Iceland. Respecting the speed limits is important if you do not want to receive nasty surprises with very high fines (in Iceland the fines for speeding can reach hundreds of euros) and above all check the condition of the roads before venturing onto routes that are closed or are impractical.

For this there is a really well done site, that of Vegagerdin.
It is also very important to rent a camper suitable for the winter period: CamperIceland was the only rental company we found capable of providing us with a vehicle with spiked wheels and additional heating.

When to see the Northern Lights in Iceland

Icelanders are a privileged people when it comes to the Northern Lights: it is possible to see the Northern Lights in Iceland practically for 8 months a year, from September to mid-April. In this period it is possible at any moment that the Lights appear in the sky, it depends only on your luck.

Actually the Northern Lights are active all year round, even in the summer months, but the sine qua non condition for observing them is that is dark and the sky is clear, with little or no clouds.

They are often referred to as the best months to see the aurora those from November to February because the nights are longer: however, keep in mind that these are also the months in which it is easier to find bad weather, therefore clouds and covered skies.

In my opinion October and March these are two perfect months to visit Iceland. As I have already written in other posts, the aurora is so bizarre in its behavior that you should never decide on a trip based on it. October and March, with their daylight hours allow you to enjoy Iceland to the fullest in winter with all its activities and, the icing on the cake, you have a very good chance of seeing the aurora.

In summer in Iceland, even if it is located just below the Arctic Circle, the phenomenon of the midnight sun occurs (in this case by refraction): this is the only reason why the Northern Lights are not visible, even if in fact there is.

Sightings, however, are already possible from mid-August when the night skies begin to get dark enough and if the weather conditions are good.

Those who are really lucky are also able to observe the aurora in conjunction with sunrise or sunset, one of the most extraordinary spectacles of their entire life.

The origin of this "strange" phenomenon is in space and despite its unpredictability, scientists are able to how strong its activity will be: the scale (which is called KP-Index) of intensity of the Northern Lights goes from 1 (very low) to 9 (geomagnetic storm).

THEIceland has this beautiful site for aurora predictions and cloud cover.

Northern Lights Predictions: The green spots represent cloud cover, the white part is clear skies

Since the Northern Lights are unpredictable, it goes without saying that the longer the stay the more the chances of sighting them increase: in any case, luck or not, Iceland is an extraordinary country and even if you will not be able to see them, the your trip will still be unforgettable.

Aurora Borealis in Iceland: useful tips

Iceland is very cold in winter, therefore make sure you are well covered when hunting for the Northern Lights. Since many of the most beautiful places are in remote and wild areas, sturdy hiking shoes or boots are indispensable.

Read my post on how to dress in Iceland in winter!

Iceland is a large but sparsely populated country. Especially if you decide to do a tour on your own, better to rent a 4 × 4, make sure you have your fill and have GPS, and a first aid kit.

Place names are often spelled in very different ways, so make sure you know where you are going.

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